6 Must-See Animation Tutorials from an Award-Winning Short-Film Maker

by Kylee Swenson
- Dec 11 2013 - 3 min read
Martell Animation

If you believe in the 10,000-hour rule championed by Malcolm Gladwell—that it requires 10,000 or more hours of practice to master a skill—then you understand what a long and winding road it is to become great at something.

Although some people who embark on a journey of successes and failures to master a skill are generous enough to give back, not everyone is willing to pay it forward and share secrets they’ve picked up along the way. That’s not the case with Lucas Martell, a self-taught animator whose short film, Pigeon: Impossible, has won over 20 awards and was featured at more than 200 festivals. He documented his pains and triumphs of discovery through 23 podcasts, sharing his best animation tips and tricks.

The success of his first animated short, released in 2009, was not easily won. The creation of Pigeon: Impossible was an exercise in diligence bordering on obsession. Although only six minutes long, the feature took nearly five years and 100 artists and musicians to create. And no, not five years of working when Martell could find the time—he put in 16-hour workdays split between his day job as a VFX and CG artist and his role as director/producer of Pigeon: Impossible.

animation tutorials
One of the stars of the show, the pigeon. Courtesy Martell Animation.

Martell, who uses mostly Softimage for animation and effects, says it took as long as it did due to his very small budget (which went entirely to the film’s music) and his lack of animation and screenwriting experience. But Martell felt that those extra-long days were well worth it.

“It was one of those things that because I was learning, I was getting a double whammy out of it,” he says. “I did think it was a very cool project, but I was getting a lot of stuff for my demo reel and tons of secondary things out of it as well. So it actually was a really good use of time.”

And while Martell’s podcasts have some excellent tips for animators, it turns out that making them was also advantageous to his career. “Those podcasts really made the film, he says. “They helped build up a fan base because there were a lot of other animators who found them really useful. And they led to a lot of other stuff. For example, I’ve taught two classes at fxphd, [an online VFX, production, and post-production training program], and it was because of those podcasts that I formed a relationship with the guys over there.”

In the first of this LSS series about Martell’s journey as a small-business animator, here are six of Martell’s coolest (sometimes as funny as informative) 3D-animation tutorials.

1. Multipass Lighting. Martell demonstrates how he composites lighting passes and explains the reason for creating as many as 60 passes for a single shot.

2. RGB Passes. Learn a trick for combining three matt color passes into one.

3. FK Arm Setup. Martell discusses some rigging tips for creating arm and wrist controls, which will enable animators to create authentic movements in a character without having to waste time on annoying things like math.

4. Cloth Cheats. Discover a few tricks to avoid the pains of creating a full-body cloth simulation and save tons of time in the process.

5. Animation Techniques. Martell demystifies two schools of thought in animation—“pose to pose” and “layered”—and explains which process works best for particular shots.

6. Follow Through. If you put five years into making a six-minute film, you should put some time into marketing it! Martell relays some tips for festival entries and online distribution and explains why putting your movie on 35mm film has its benefits.

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